The Detroit Lions are failing in their attempt to change themselves

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 30: Head coach Matt Patricia of the Detroit Lions looks on while playing the Cleveland Browns during a preseason game at Ford Field on August 30, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 30: Head coach Matt Patricia of the Detroit Lions looks on while playing the Cleveland Browns during a preseason game at Ford Field on August 30, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions have given up something good in the pursuit of greatness in the 2018 NFL season, but perhaps that sacrifice was ill-advised.

“So all the elders of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, ‘Look, you are old, and your sons do not follow your example. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have.'”
– The Bible, I Samuel 8:4-5

For years now, the Detroit Lions have followed the same M.O.: no running game, early deficits, crazy comebacks, losing on obscure rules and finishing 9-7. It wasn’t orthodox, but it worked. The Lions were good, a team you could support with a modicum of pride.

0-16 was a decade ago—recent enough to be remembered and long ago enough to be forgotten. When I was a kid, “Same Old Lions” meant single-digit win seasons, first-round busts and losing on Thanksgiving. Nowadays, it means some bad luck and vanilla playcalling.

But we’ve forgotten what we left behind, and in our striving, have forgotten to appreciate what we have.

In the Bible, the people of Israel—God’s chosen people—are freed from 400 years of slavery in the book of Exodus.

God, known in Hebrew as “Yahweh,” outlines a way for the newly-freed people to live. It’s different. It’s designed that way. They don’t eat pork. They rest on Saturdays. They are ruled by Yahweh-appointed judges instead of a monarchy. It’s all to set them apart—to make them different from the nations around them. Yahweh promises them that He will take care of them if they follow the way of life He has lined out for them. The Israelites agree and they thrive in their new land (albeit with some hiccups).

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But then the Israelites start to get antsy. They start looking at the nations surrounding them and their kings and palaces and begin to think that they’re real neat. Then they look at their current judge, an old man named Samuel, and get kind of disillusioned with their current way of life. They forget what they have and start lusting after green royal lawns. So they go to Samuel and say, “give us a king.”

Samuel knows this is a bad idea. He knows that the Israelites live differently from the other peoples and that if they get a king, they’ll have a whole bunch of other things that go with kings: like conscription into royal armies and heavy taxation. He knows that the people won’t like that and even goes so far as to say that the people will become the king’s slaves. “When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you’ve chosen for yourselves,” he says. (I Samuel 8:18)

The people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We must have a king over us. Then we’ll be like all the other nations: our king will judge us, go out before us, and fight our battles.’” (vv. 19-20)

So Samuel reluctantly finds them a king, a young man named Saul. He’s as good of a choice as any: he’s tall and strong and a humble prophet. But eventually the kingship gets to him and he starts doing the things Samuel warned the Israelites about. Within 100 years, the Israelites’ kingdom is split in two. In the centuries that follow, the Israelites are conquered, taken into captivity and scattered throughout the world.

Far be it from me to say that Jim Caldwell was God-appointed to be the Detroit Lions’ head football coach or anything like that. If there is a God, I doubt very much that He cares about our little ball games. No, this story illustrates a different point: the hubris of humankind in its attempt to forfeit what it has to reach for things that don’t belong to it. This isn’t about the pursuit of greatness itself, but rather, the sacrifice of that which seems to be working for the sake of a shiny new undertaking.

The Lions became unsatisfied, so they started looking around, seeing what other teams had and desiring those things for themselves, with no thought as to whether or not such a thing would be right for them. They even brought in an understudy to the greatest king in the league. In so doing, they flew towards the sun because they forgot what it was like to fall, and now their wings—and the pencil tucked behind one of them—have shown signs of melting. The bird in the hand is flying away freely as the franchise reaches desperately for the two in the bush, with the king with the beard replacing the judge with the scowl.

Perhaps this is all an overreaction based on a poor preseason and one Monday Night embarrassment. Maybe the new leadership will show to be an improvement in time. Or maybe we need to learn the lesson that the Israelites—and potentially the Lions—failed to learn: that we ought to take more stock in what we have and who we are, appreciating what we currently are and not sacrificing those things to strive for a beyond that may dissipate in our hands.

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The Lions will visit the San Francisco 49ers at 4:05 p.m. next Sunday on FOX.